continued from September 2009
Cynthia Shackelford, the last big winner of the alienation of affections lottery, has stirred it up once again. One of the favorite pastimes of the North Carolinians -- the Alienation of Affections Debate. Should the law be abolished? Or should every state have it?
The proponents of alienation of affections law typically scream “protect the children,” sue the mistress. They never demystify quite how dragging the man’s mistress in the mud and slapping her with a multi-million-dollar verdict helps his children.
Proponents of the law also believe that alienation of affections law “sends a message” and “home wreckers stay away.” I do not know if anybody ever figured out if home-wreckers do get the message. Are there fewer home-wreckers in North Carolina, where the law is still well than, say, in New York, where the law is abolished? Has anybody sent a SurveyMonkey question around the state of North Carolina, asking: “If it were not for the alienation of affections law, would you be more likely to sleep with your married boss? Please mark only one of the following boxes: “agree completely,” “agree somewhat,” “disagree completely,” or “what law? I have been screwing the boss for the past ten years. Now you telling me there’s a law?!” I do not actually know if there is a statistical study, but I do know that all my friends who wanted to raise families, moved to Charlotte, and all my friends who wanted to raise hell are still in New York -- so there may be some adverse selection here. And it has nothing to do with the legal system -- it is all about the nightlife in Soho versus the nightlife in Ballentine.
Shackelford’s victory also stirred up the opposition, which generally shouts that “the law is immoral” and “needs to me removed.” Rosen, one of the most vocal (and generally sensible) divorce commentators in the state, was quoted years ago, saying that “the law just polarizes everyone and devastates everything in its path including the children and both spouses.” P-uh-lease. We are not talking about an unnecessary drunken debauch at a White House reception. We are talking about a law suit which typically comes up as part of a divorce action. It is not like everybody was warm, fuzzy and happy just before -- and now comes the alienation of affections lawsuit, and destroys the spirit. This people were divorcing each other. My money is, they do not like each other all that much.
Of course, the opposition also deplores the high awards issued in the alienation cases. A million or two is not uncommon if the jury does not like the paramour. That is not the sharpest argument, either. Is alienation of affections the only cause of action that ignites a jury to astronomical verdict? Of course not! The juries get carried away in every type of the case. Tobacco, Asbestus, wrongful death, personal injury, contract. You name it -- there is a suit where the jury got bothered and over-reacted. Nobody argues to abolish those causes of action.
Here’s how I see it. Some people are to blame for destroying a perfectly good marriage, which maybe would have screeched its way through a rough patch, and then lasted till death did them part. And then again, some people are doing a couple a favor by ending the union that made both spouses miserable, anyhow. And some people were just in the wrong place, at the wrong time. As any law, alienation of affections law gets misused, abused, and used for blackmail (we call it negotiations). And it gets used to punish the bad and make whole the good. It just all depends.
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